Chapter 99 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

"So," said Dave, "What do you feel like doing tonight?"

They were sitting at the dining room table in the Princess's apartment. She took a sip of her tea and said, "I was thinking about staying home and making a loaf of bread."

This idea didn't exactly thrill Dave. He made a sort of groaning noise. "Well, I suppose we could do that."

The Princess gazed into her teacup. She started to say something, but then stopped. "Umm, I..."

Dave waited for her to say something, but she didn't. "What?" he asked. "What were you going to say?"

"Hmm. What I meant was, I was thinking of staying home and making bread. Alone."

Dave raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"

Suddenly the Princess put her teacup down and stood up. She attempted to say several things at once, but it came out a garbled mess. Then she took a deep breath and sat down again.

"I think we should stop seeing each other," she said.

Dave was too stunned to respond.

After a pause, she said, "I don't think this is really working, at least not for me, and I think it's time we brought it to a close."

Dave took a sudden deep breath. He shook his head slowly from side to side. "I don't-" He paused. "I mean, I'm-" He didn't know what to say, and had basically lost the power of speech.

The Princess pulled her chair up close to him, and put her hand out, touching his. "Listen, now. I do like you. I always have. And it has been fun. But, I just don't think we're quite right for each other."

"What do you mean we're not right for each other? We get along great!"

She shook her head. "No, we don't. We think very differently." She sighed. "Remember the movie, 'Neon Highways'? Remember how we argued about that? And that's just one little example. We fight like that all the time. We can't even eat the same meal! I'm a vegetarian and you don't like vegetables! How are we supposed to get along if we don't even eat the same foods?"

Dave felt his head spinning, he felt dizzy. He thought he was about to fall over.

"And I'll tell you something else," continued the Princess. "Remember a couple of months ago you got a strange black package in the mail? And you got all upset about it and threw it away because you didn't like being told what to do? Remember that?"

Dave nodded slowly.

"I sent you that."

Dave's eyes bulged. "What? Really?"

"Yes! I thought you'd find it funny! But instead you got all mad, because you thought somebody was trying to push you around. So I never felt like telling you it was me."

Dave looked away. He could think of nothing to say.

The Princess sighed heavily, and disappeared into her bedroom. After a moment, she emerged with a small cardboard box. It contained Dave's toothbrush, a couple of books of his which she'd borrowed, a comb, one of his shirts, and an old pair of his socks. She set the box down on the floor near Dave but didn't say anything about it.

She sat down across from him, and they looked at each other.

Dave couldn't believe this was happening. For a long time, they sat silently looking at each other. Dave spent this time thinking, trying to figure out if there were some way he could salvage the relationship. He thought about bringing her flowers, then mentally hit himself for being so shallow. He considered learning to become a vegetarian, but figured she wouldn't believe it anymore than he could deal with it. He wondered if she'd been after a deeper commitment, and considered asking her to marry him; but he decided this was incorrect, and that he'd just humiliate himself if he suggested it.

"What are you thinking?" asked the Princess.

Dave tried to speak, but couldn't. Suddenly the reality of the situation hit him, and he realized it was over. He could do nothing to stop it, and all at once he felt very sad and very alone. He looked into her eyes, and saw that her love for him had died.

He realized that anything he said or did now would be stupid and embarrassing, and he decided it would be better to leave quietly than to humiliate himself by making a scene. So, he resolved to be cool. He shoved his emotions down inside him, down into his stomach. He took a deep breath, and held it, gritting his teeth to hold back his tears. Then he stood up. "I guess this is it then," he said. He picked up the box and walked to the door.

The Princess followed him. He opened the door, and then, standing in the doorway, he turned toward the Princess. "Goodbye," he said, "I'll see you around sometime."

The Princess put her arms around Dave, and they hugged. "Goodbye," she said, "Take care of yourself." Then Dave walked off down the hall, and the Princess shut the door behind him.

When Dave got outside, he leaned against a wall and cried.

After a few minutes, he regained his composure, and examined the contents of the box. He put one of the books into his back pocket, and tossed everything else into a nearby dumpster.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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